Gateway to the Classics: Will o' the Wasps by Margaret Warner Morley
Will o' the Wasps by  Margaret Warner Morley


"I have found a Pelopaeus making a paper nest!" shouted Theodore one day as he ran to his uncle.

"That is a sight I would give much to see. Come on with the show!"

"This way;" and Theodore led him to the kitchen porch and pointed to something up under the roof.

"The nest is paper, sure enough," said Uncle Will as he glanced at it, "but the lady wasp is not Pelopaeus—wait until she comes back."

"I thought she looked more like a Pelopaeus than a Vespa."

"That may be, too. A dog looks more like a fox than like a bear, but that doesn't make it a fox. This wasp with a slender waist—though not so slender as that of Pelopaeus—and the paper-making habit is Madam Polistes; oh, here she comes! Allow me, Madam Polistes, to introduce my promising young nephew, who, if he were a king's son, would be called his royal highness Prince Theodore"; and Uncle Will took off his hat and made a low bow.

"I don't know what I ought to say to a speech like that," said Theodore, taking off his hat and making a low bow to the wasp, who paid no attention to either of them but hurried on to her nest.

"I think," said Uncle Will, "we can arrange a platform where we can sit at our ease and watch Polistes at her household affairs."

"That," said Theodore, "will be just the thing."

So a platform was made with two boxes and a board across, high and safe, where they could sit and watch whatever was done.

It did not take long to discover that Polistes was bringing home something besides paper for nest-making.

"I believe she has a little grub in one of those cells and she is feeding it," said Theodore.

"I shouldn't wonder," said Uncle Will; "but we shall have to wait until the youngster has grown big enough to show its head at the opening before we can see Mama Polistes put minced spider and purée of fly into its mouth."

"If she put in bread wouldn't it do just as well?"

"Perhaps it would and perhaps it wouldn't; I don't know, I'm sure. It may be macerated insect is more nourishing, it may be she hasn't learned the art of bread-making.

"She could steal the bread out of the kitchen."

"Ssh, child! what ideas to instil into the mind of an honest and honorable wasp!"

"But she steals meat," said Theodore.

"Meat is different—to a wasp. Let us give her some help with the growth of that grub."

But Polistes, unlike the hornets and yellow jackets, did not touch the meat they brought her. The grub did grow, however, and one day Theodore was delighted to see its little head come to view as Mother Polistes flew up on the comb to feed it.

After that more grubs appeared, and Polistes was busy enough flying back and forth with food for hungry mouths.

"It is exactly like a mother bird feeding her birdies," said Theodore.

And then one day—behold, one of the cells was capped over!

"That means peace in the family," said Uncle Will. "No more crying and screaming for Mellen's food from that quarter."

"There is not a pupa inside the cradle," said Theodore, "or anyway the little soft larva is changing into a hard pupa." And Uncle Will answered, "Yes, strange things are happening inside that paper box."

In a few days all the first made cells were capped over, and then—one day one of them was found wide open—and empty!

"There are two wasps in the nest," said Theodore.

"So I should expect," said Uncle Will. "The eldest daughter has had her coming-out party and is now doing what all eldest daughters ought to do—helping keep house and look after the other children."

So they watched, and so it went on. Day by day the nest grew larger as the wasps worked at it. Day by day more wasps appeared upon the scene until there were a dozen or more, all quite friendly, for had they not seen two human faces leaning over them ever since they were born?

Theodore had soon learned the difference between Pelopaeus and Polistes, and was astonished that he could ever have mistaken one for the other.

"When you really know them they are not at all alike," he said. "Will they make big cells for drones and queens in the autumn?"

"Wait and see," said Uncle Will.

So they waited and watched, and sure enough the time came when the big cells began to appear; then out of these hatched the queens and the drones, and Theodore learned to tell from the markings on their faces which was which.

"The drones have white faces," said he, "so it is safe to catch them. If you knew which were hornet drones you could take them in your hand too without getting stung. How can you tell hornet drones, Uncle Will?"

"One could tell by the face markings, I believe, and by their long antennae, but when it comes to picking up hornets—I believe I should pursue knowledge along some other path."

All this time only the one broad, flat comb appeared, whose cells were hung suspended mouth down.

"When are they going to enclose their house in tent walls?" Theodore asked a great many times until finally, he decided they were not going to do it at all.

"No," said Uncle Will, "they are not going to do it; it is not the habit of their family. They hang their combs in a safe place and let it go at that."

"They only build one-story houses too," said Theodore.

"Yes," answered Uncle Will, "but they can manage to raise a good many wasps in the course of a summer. Come, and I will show you something"; and he led Theodore to the barn where he lifted a loose board on the inside of the building. Looking under it Theodore saw the space beneath fairly lined with paper combs, while in a minute the air was full of frightened Polistes flying about.

"This is no place for me," said Theodore after one glance.

"Nor for me," said Uncle Will, quickly but gently replacing the board and hastening out of the barn with Theodore.

"The Polistes often join forces in that way," he said, when they had reached a place of safety. "Several families seem to live amicably together in some chosen spot; and I suppose it was because of this habit of crowding together that the wise men who long ago named wasps called our little friends here, and their near relatives who have the same habit, Polistes, from the Greek meaning city builder."

"Uncle Will, what are the real  names of the wasps—not the names people give them, but their real names?"

Uncle Will laughed. "That is too hard for me," he said; "I guess you'll have to find out the answer to that question yourself."

Theodore was quiet a few minutes, then asked:

"Does one queen Polistes start the whole nest, as the hornets do?"

"Yes, indeed, it is about the same thing. One queen begins the nest, then workers hatch out, and toward the end of the season drones and queens come forth. Then all the drones and workers die off, only the queens being left to hide away and come out in the spring to start a new nest."

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Hunters  |  Next: Strange Nests
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.